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UCL community is delivering on sector-leading sustainability commitments

21 June 2021

In 2019, UCL made ambitious sustainability goals; find out what progress we've been making.

Annual Report Cover Page

To see the full report, visit our Annual Report page. 

It has been a year since UCL launched its ambitious sustainability strategy “Change Possible”. And what an extraordinary year it has been.  The pandemic has led us to re-evaluate how UCL should operate for a fair and sustainable future; but it's also shown what collectively our community can do.

Thanks to all our students and staff, who have continued to take action for a sustainable UCL despite the challenging circumstances. It's been particularly great to see the 87 Green Impact and LEAF teams helping to lead action across the institution.

We are happy to present our first update on the progress the UCL community has made towards achieving our 6 main sustainability commitments.  

1. Every student will have the opportunity to study and be involved in sustainability by 2024

We have expanded our curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular offer, to enable as many students as possible to engage with sustainability:

2. We will increase our sustainability research with an increased focus on the Sustainable Development Goals
  • In 2019/20, UCL research with a focus on the SDGs was cited 86 times in policy papers from the UK Government.
  • The new UCL SDG website contains 100 case studies on how UCL’s research is engaging with the SDGs.
  • The new UCL Climate Hub demonstrates the breadth of UCL research and action on SDG13 – Climate Change.
3. Our buildings will be net zero carbon by 2024 and by 2030 our institution will be net zero carbon
  • By switching to renewable electricity, we made it almost halfway towards our 2024 zero carbon buildings target, namely 47%.
  • We have also progressed one fifth, 21%, towards the 2030 target of becoming a zero carbon institution.
  • UCL researchers and professional staff, designed and piloted UCL’s Carbon Accountability Scheme that brings together elements of carbon pricing and behavioural support to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and operations. Fifteen departments took part in the pilot, reducing 160 tonnes of CO2 saving £75k.
4. Be a single-use plastic-free campus
  • In spring 2020, UCL replaced all single-use plastics from the delivered hospitality service with reusable crockery, cutlery and serving trays, when we are back on campus we estimate this will save over half a million disposables per year.
  • In 2019, UCL’s Refectory shop began trialling plastic-free alternative products. Students and staff can purchase plastic-free snacks and drinks. The pick and mix counter reduced plastic packaged snack options in the shop by 50% .
5. Reduce waste per person by 20%
  • So far, we have reduced waste per person by 33% due to the UCL community working and studying away from campus. Our current recycling rate is 58% overall.
  • In 2014 it was estimated that 1.8% of the world’s plastic waste originated from lab spaces; a single researcher in a tissue culture lab can easily use over 200 kg of single-use plastics a year. LEAF, UCL’s programme to make laboratories more sustainable is helping participating lab groups to reduce waste by ~11%.
6. We’ve committed that by 2024, we will have created 10,000m2 extra biodiverse space - increasing wellbeing and reducing the impacts of pollution
  • We are working with partners to baseline biodiversity in Bloomsbury and identify the opportunity areas for nature-based solutions across our campus and beyond.
  • Over the summer closure, UCL installed approx. 600 cycle racks, creating 1,000 parking spaces across UCL.
  • By consolidating deliveries, re-routing vehicles to our Logistics Hub and delivering post using Cargo Bikes, we've reduced vehicles on site per month from 14,000 to 700!

Dr Michael Spence AC, UCL President & Provost on UCL's sustainability goals:

Despite the extraordinary challenge of the last year it has been incredible to see the progress that the UCL community has continued to make towards achieving our sustainability goals. As we look forward to the next year and in particular the UK hosting COP 26, the need for global action on a wide range of sustainability agendas has never been greater; UCL is committed not only to developing the radical ideas to shape this action but also to show what it means to be a truly sustainable university.

For more details and stories from across the UCL community, visit our Annual Report page.

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